The British Museum Act of 1753 (26 Geo. II cap. XXII)
London, England, 7 June 1753
The opening page of the Act of Parliament that created the British Museum
Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) owned huge collections of books, manuscripts and natural history specimens. When he died, his will showed that he wished the trustees to offer his collections to the king for the sum of £20,000, so that they would belong to the nation. The money would go to his two daughters.
Sloane's trustees offered the collections to King George II (reigned 1727-60), who replied that 'he doubted if there was money sufficient in the Exchequer'. The trustees then appealed directly to the British Parliament. Many Members of Parliament saw that this was an opportunity to establish a national museum.
It was not only Sloane's collections which had been offered to the nation. The Harleian Collection of manuscripts and medals, collected by Edward and Robert Harley, Earls of Oxford, was also for sale. The library collected by Sir Robert Cotton and his descendants had been publicly owned since 1700, but no home had been found for it.
Finally, the Government paid the £20,000, and The British Museum Act was passed on 7 June 1753 (and remained in force until 1963). It created the British Museum in order to house the Sloane, Cotton and Harleian Collections, and set up a governing Board of Trustees. The Act also gave the Trustees power to buy a house for the new Museum (they bought Montagu House in 1755).